Monday, May 14, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #134: We Can Still Be Friends by Mawil

German cartoonist Mawil was not very good at talking to girls when he was young. So far, so typical. (I suppose there are people out there who were immediately good at conversation with their preferred sex, but they're probably also all tall and thin and rich, so we hate them anyway.)

Mawil (real name: Markus Witzel), though, turned that youthful gawkiness into art, which most of us don't manage to do, in his wistful early graphic story We Can Still Be Friends.

Mawil, when he made these pages, was still young and mostly unable to talk coherently to the girls that he liked -- this book was his "diploma," as the acknowledgements puts it, which I think means it was the rough equivalent of a thesis for a MFA. (It's dated 2002, which would make him 25-26 when he completed it.) I also think the "relationship" documented in the last section was actually going on at the time he was making these pages, or that it ended just before that: this is a comic made in a moment, looking backward to contextualize where its maker was right then.

I say "relationship" in quotes because Mawil didn't actually date any of the women he tells us about here. He knew them from school, or other activities, and they hung around together...but, after he built them each up hugely in his head and finally got around to the "do you want to go out" stage, he was let down easily. This book shows the slow process by which he got through a number of "we can still be friends" conversations as he gradually learned how to have that conversation at all, and maybe even to move it up earlier in time.

So these are autobiographical comics, of the "I'm no good at this thing" subcategory, with an emphasis on personal relationships. Mawil is funny, and his style works well for both young gawky people and young attractive people. And his point is that he did get better, if slowly, and that this kind of thing is part of growing up. We all meet people we're crazy about; the trick is finding the ones where it's mutual.

This was very early in Mawil's career, but it looks a lot like the later books of his I've seen -- Home and Away and Sparky O'Hare and Beach Safari. His style seems to have crystallized early, which is really interesting: it's an idiosyncratic, very cartoony style, but I guess he came to it quickly and naturally. (Or worked at it for years on things that will never see the light of day -- which seems the same on the outside.)

We Can Still Be Friends, despite the rejection inherent in the title, is a fundamentally positive book -- Mawil's frame story has him telling these stories to a group of friends, who encourage him and push him forward. This is not a book about how women hate him; it's a book about how it took him a while to figure out how to talk to women, and how he's still getting better at it. Getting better at talking to people is a good thing: I love books that encourage that.

P.S. This book's title always reminds me of this bit from the 1996 song "Eddie Vedder," by Chicago's greatest two-man band, Local H:
Okay I understand
But I don't want to be your friend
I don't need another friend
I've got too many friends
If I was Eddie Vedder
Would you like me any better? 
That has absolutely nothing to do with the book. But, hey, what good is a blog if you can't make random pop-cultural connections there?

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